Right-wing leader Wilders convicted of anti-Moroccan chants
Populist anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders was found guilty on Friday of insulting and inciting discrimination against Moroccans, a conviction he immediately slammed as a “shameful” attack on free speech and an attempt to “neutralise” him.Updated: Dec 09, 2016 19:25 IST
Populist anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders was found guilty on Friday of insulting and inciting discrimination against Moroccans, a conviction he immediately slammed as a “shameful” attack on free speech and an attempt to “neutralise” him.
Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said the court would not impose a sentence because the conviction was punishment enough for a democratically elected lawmaker.
Wilders was not in court for the verdict that came a little more than three months before national elections. His Party for Freedom is narrowly leading a nationwide poll of polls and has risen in popularity during the trial.
Wilders quickly released a video message, in English and Dutch, slamming the judgment and vowing to appeal. “Today, I was convicted in a political trial which, shortly before the elections, attempts to neutralise the leader of the largest and most popular opposition party,” he said. “They will not succeed.”
Even before the hearing, Wilders had vowed not to be silenced. “Whatever the verdict, I will continue to speak the truth about the Moroccan problem, and no judge, politician or terrorist will stop me,” he tweeted.
The politically charged prosecution centered on comments Wilders made before and after the Dutch municipal elections in 2014. At one meeting in a Hague cafe, he asked supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands. That sparked a chant of “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” – to which he replied, “We’ll take care of it.”
Prosecutors say Wilders, who in 2011 was acquitted at another hate speech trial for his outspoken criticism of Islam, overstepped the limits of free speech by specifically targeting Moroccans.
He had denied the charges and insisted he was performing his duty as a political leader by pointing out a problem in society.
On Friday, he was convicted for the interaction with the crowd of supporters in the Hague cafe, which judges said was carefully orchestrated and broadcast on national television. He was acquitted for similar comments he made in a radio interview a week earlier, which the judges said did not amount to inciting hatred.
Before declaring Wilders guilty, Steenhuis stressed freedom of expression was not on trial.
“Freedom of speech is one of the foundations of our democratic society,” the judge said. But he added: “Freedom of speech can be limited, for example to protect the rights and freedoms of others, and that is what this case is about.”
Abdou Menebhi, president of the Euro-Mediterranean Center for Migration and Development, welcomed the judgment.
“For us, it’s a very important verdict,” he told AP. “This gives the Moroccans who felt like victims a renewed belief in a democratic society.” He said it also sent a message to Wilders’ supporters to be careful.
“This man is not looking for solutions for you,” Menebhi said. “His is an ideology of smearing Europe, migrants, Muslims, without offering alternatives.”
First Published: Dec 09, 2016 19:25 IST